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After interviews I’d often be so wound up I’d hop in a cab on Market Street and tell the driver to take me to the far side of Golden Gate park where he would drop me off and I’d walk back to my truck parked back down town. The wandering walk sometimes takes several hours, and I often return after sunset. I watch the city age over years.
I exit the park and start up the curved sidewalk that leads to the MacDonald’s marking the entrance to Haight. Today my back sizzles with stripes of pain wrapping testicles and toes. I walk as fast as I can. I approach the Anarchist Bookstore and enter after ignoring it since my first and only visit more than 15 years ago.
It looks the same. A grey slim man with a sparse beard is busy under a pair of headphones. I walk past him and pick up a book containing line drawings of female reproductive anatomy in the form of a coloring book. I’m amused, and I put it back to reach for another that claims to be one that kids should have but would never be allowed. It contains drawings of monsters and unicorns having sex. I drop it back on the shelf with a thwack and turn to see if the man behind the counter is disengaged enough to help me. He’s still busy.
The desire to consume language is overwhelming. I do not enjoy wasting my time with words that do not matter.
I wait for his focus to break so that I might get a pure unmolested-by-bother answer.
He removes his headphones while I’m browsing the store’s most insincere and humorous magazines. I approach the counter. He smiles and asks how he might help me. I explain how painful events have answered many questions but left me with a new interest: I want to go back to the beginning and use my new eyes.
He nods and smiles. And says:
I follow him five or six feet to the bookshelf beside us.
I do not look at the book. I pull out my money to pay. He returns to his position behind the cash register and smiles.
‘How long have you been here?’
‘Seventeen years or so.’
‘Do you own this place?’
He laughs out of the side of his face. I asked the wrong question.
‘It’s a collective. We all help out.’
I smile and grab my change.
‘Thank you for your help.’
I exit the bookstore and turn right toward lower Haight.
Very far from pursuing the natural order from the lower to the higher, from the inferior to the superior, and from the relatively simple to the more complex; instead of wisely and rationally accompanying the progressive and real movement from the world called inorganic to the world organic, vegetables, animal, and then distinctively human-from chemical matter or chemical being to living matter or living being, and from living being to thinking being-the idealists, obsessed, blinded, and pushed on by the divine phantom which they have inherited from theology, take precisely the opposite course.
They go from the higher to the lower, from the superior to the inferior, from the complex to the simple. They begin with God, either as a person or as divine substance or idea, and the first step that they take is a terrible fall from the sublime heights of the eternal ideal into the mire of the material world; from absolute perfection into absolute imperfection; from thought to being, or rather, from supreme being to nothing. When, how, and why the divine being, eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect, probably weary of himself, decided upon this desperate salto mortale is something which no idealist, no theologian, no metaphysician, no poet, has ever been able to understand himself or explain to the profane. All religions, past and present, and all the systems of transcendental philosophy hinge on this unique and iniquitous mystery.1 Holy men, inspired lawgivers, prophets, messiahs, have searched it for life, and found only torment and death. Like the ancient sphinx, it has devoured them, because they could not explain it. Great philosophers from Heraclitus and Plato down to Descartes, Spinoza: Leibnitz, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel, not to mention the Indian philosophers, have written heaps of volumes and built systems as ingenious as sublime, in which they have said by the way many beautiful and grand things and discovered immortal truths, but they have left this mystery, the principal object of their transcendental investigations, as unfathomable as before. The gigantic efforts of the most Wonderful geniuses that the world has known, and who, one after another, for at least thirty centuries, have undertaken anew this labor of Sisyphus, have resulted only in rendering this mystery still more incomprehensible. Is it to be hoped that it will be unveiled to us by the routine speculations of some pedantic disciple of an artificially warmed-over metaphysics at a time when all living and serious spirits have abandoned that ambiguous science born of a compromise-historically explicable no doubt-between the unreason of faith and sound scientific reason?
It is evident that this terrible mystery is inexplicable-that is, absurd, because only the absurd admits of no explanation. It is evident that whoever finds it essential to his happiness and life must renounce his reason, and return, if he can, to naive, blind, stupid faith, to repeat with Tertullianus and all sincere believers these words, which sum up the very quintessence of theology: Credo quia absurdum. Then all discussion ceases, and nothing remains but the triumphant stupidity of faith. But immediately there arises another question: How comes an intelligent and well-informed man ever to feel the need of believing in this mystery?
I notice the fabric of incidents is woven a little too tight. My synchronicity sensors start screaming at me: ‘Wait, this can’t be!’
I hand the photo over to Mr. Private Equity and say ‘This is why I do it.’
‘This wall. This is a symbol. Of why I do it. This wall is part of the playground of the elementary school where my kid’s soccer team meets for practice. What does it look like to you?’
‘I don’t know. Some sorta barrier or something.’
‘Right. It is. It’s a dodge ball wall. But that’s not the most interesting fact about this wall.’
If I pause too long between sentences I begin to fear the phrases coming out of my mouth are meaningless. Just words in random order.
He looks confused and maybe even a bit threatened. I feel the hair on the back of my neck go on end.
I ignore his twisting face and continue.
‘This wall is made of one-inch plywood. And that hole in the middle. It’s completely worn through. It’s about the size of a torso of an eight-year-old child. How many dodge ball games do you think it took to make that hole?’
He becomes agitated. I do not give up.
‘And, my next question is, how many kids did those dodge balls wear through before making a hole like that?’
He’s now fully aware that I’m naming him as an accomplice. I wonder if he will imagine acts of revenge later, after I’m gone.
‘That’s why I do what I do. I’m always at war with those human traits that wear through children.’
Nothing to fear here.
‘Now, how does that stack up to what you are asking me to do?’
He leans back in his seat. I put the photograph back into my backpack and finish my iced tea.
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Howard Joseph Sicore 1940-2014
My father’s father was always a painful subject, but he brings him up as we enter a room of brown chairs filled with despair.
‘My dad never taught me anything.’
He describes how alcohol ruined his family. That Roger, his brother three years younger, was his father’s favorite.
‘Always gave him things like cars.’
A woman interrupts to ask something, but before she can finish he blurts, ‘Howard Sicore. Seven. Twenty-one. Forty.’
He’s receiving drips while sitting in a repulsive brown chair like those found in a delivery room for the husband to sleep, a recliner, with a side table for coffee.
‘These are all good people here.’
Everyone laughs. A man is wheeling over his tri-mix of drips to grab a couple of bags of free potato chips. Howard interrupts him.
‘Having fun yet?’
‘It is what it is.’ Says the stranger.
My father smiles and returns to his normal state of introspection.
‘I’ve a log cabin in mind, and someday it will be real. And a 1937 Ford two-door sedan. A kind of red. Tinted rear windows. In my three-car garage. Two stories. Bedroom, bathroom upstairs. If I can get this floor covering project going. I’ll keep investing more and more from the sales.’ He pauses, characteristically rubs his chest, sighs and looks down. ‘Just dreams that I have. You just don’t know if it will work or not, you know?’
He acts immortal. I’m just listening.
‘It’s nice to have dreams. It’s fun to think about things.’
He talks of his hair and concedes it’s time to get a haircut. Later in the day he will walk into a beauty school, where the young women there will treat him with dignity as they trim off all that remains, a few half-grey finger-sized strands of hair, and his sparse beard, down to stubble. When he stands to walk out of the salon, he looks just like his father. I do not tell him this.
‘I met your mom in a pool hall. The Blue Boar. I was friends with this heavy set guy, but he got mad at me because I talked to her first.’
He describes their circle of friends during their dating years. There was Pat Rogers in Fort Worth. And Jim and Carolyn. His brief descriptions of them leave more questions than answers.
‘I don’t know why she said this, but Carolyn said his penis was too small. Can you believe that?’
He is enjoying this.
‘I met your mom, and we’d gone over to my apartment. It was the first time that I kissed her. I just turned around, and I held her, and I asked her, ”May I kiss you?” And she let me. Ask her about that.’
This is one of his most valued memories. He is genuinely happy.
The subject returns to his brother.
‘Roger turned gay. When we were kids. I found them alone by the Santa Anna river. Well, I won’t say any more. George Herman. That’s who he was with.’
He says he never told anyone this happened. He protected his brother.
Happy birthday, Dad. I miss you.
Eight months old today, he has had various forms of seizures, up to hundreds per day, since myoclonic jerks sent him to the hospital in March of this year. But the infantile spasms that began later—small crunch-like postures that happen in clusters throughout the day—erased his ability to smile, to hold his head up, and to roll over. He’s now a huge tank of a seven month-old boy. Handsome. Gorgeous rolls of baby fat. Smells divine. But he has a life-threatening and limiting condition that will never go away.
In April, after months of tests, the neurologists agreed that Clyde was environmentally insulted by either a virus (like CMV) or a random ischemic event as a fetus in the second trimester that affected the formation of his brain. In patches, generalized and widespread across both hemispheres, and in every area except for the occipital lobes, neurons failed to migrate to the cortex. They call this polymicrogyria: many small folds. There is a spectrum to this disorder, and Clyde has the most severe type.
We try to ignore the prognosis. Yet, we must write it here, because we are thinking it to ourselves every day: He may never walk, talk, or be able to care for himself independently. There’s a ten percent chance he could die in his sleep, and a greater chance that he will ultimately be taken early by cumulative bouts of aspiration pneumonia. He already shows signs of spastic quadriparesis, global motor delay, severe cognitive impairment and refractory seizures. He can’t use his hands. Just now trying to hold his head up–an ability that disappeared when he was two months old, at that same time his smile disappeared–he simply cannot smile. He appears content. As his parents we’ve learned to recognize this, or so we hope.
Again, ignoring the prognosis: He seems to change every day. Tiny eye movements during a touching moment show he’s smiling inside. A random thrust of his arm seems to mean he’s reaching out. A furrowed brow shows some intent. And that is hope. We are holding his hand through life.
We’ve been mostly quiet because we needed time to understand what was actually happening to Clyde, grieve for the passing of Damon’s father, and deal with job and healthcare loss and delays. To grieve for Clyde. Throughout, our friends and family have been our anchor and our levity. We are thankful.
‘You always lie to me.’
‘I do not. Why do you say that?’
‘Yes you do. You don’t tell me the truth when something is wrong.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You don’t tell me everything.’
‘Do you mean I don’t tell you how bad it really is?’
The boy stared at something around his feet and kicked a t-shirt into the air from the clothing-strewn floor. He watched the boy’s face.
‘I see. I understand. And, you think that I’m not telling you everything now?’
‘Yes. I think you know it’s bad, and you aren’t telling me everything. It’s going to be on both sides. That’s what I think, and you will see that I’m right.’
‘We don’t know that yet.’
‘I know it.’
He stood up from his son’s bed. The length of his hand dropped over the boy’s shoulder, and his fingers bridged the gaps on both sides of the boy’s collar bone. He noted how fragile the structures seemed under his hand.
‘We will see. Now get some sleep.’
‘OK. Goodnight dad.’
‘Goodnight. I’m proud of you. We will make it. You will see.’
“On the concrete wall behind them, a very fresh-looking billboard depicts a dark fist upraising a bright Kalashnikov rifle over Arabic script: THERE IS NO GOD BUT ALLAH AND MOHAMMED IS HIS PROPHET.”
Johnson, Denis (2009-02-20). Seek (Kindle Locations 1128-1131). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition
My deadly notes reigns supreme
Your fort is basic compared to mine
Domino effect, arts and crafts
Paragraphs contain cyanide — Cappadonna, Wu-Tang
True pride is humility.
Sometimes I cannot use specific words. I can’t stand to read them. I do not want them to exist.
Children, he said. Without children I would not be the Father. No Fatherhood without childhood. I never wanted it, it was thrust upon me. Tribute of a sort but I could have done without, fathering then raising each one of the thousands and thousands and tens of thousands, the inflation of the little bundle to big bundle, period of years, and then making sure the big bundles if male wore their cap-and-bells, and if not observed the principle of jus primae noctis, the embarrassment of sending away those I didn’t want, the pain of sending away those I did want, out into the lifestream of the city, nevermore to warm my cold couch, and the management of the ___, maintenance of public order, keeping the zip codes straight, keeping the fug out of the gutters, would have preferred remaining in my study comparing editions of Klinger, the first state, the second state, the third state, and so on, was there parting along the fold? and so on, water stain and so on, but this was not possible, all went forth and multiplied, and multiplied, and multiplied, and I had to Father, it was the natural order, thousands, tens of thousands, but I wanted to wonder if if if I put a wood pulp mat next to a 100 percent rag print would there be foxing and whether the rumblings of the underground would shake the chalk dust from my pastels or not. I never wanted it, it was thrust upon me. I wanted to worry about the action of the sun fading what I valued most, strong browns turning to pale browns if not vacant yellows, how to protect against, that sort of thing, but no, I had to devour them, hundreds, thousands, ____, sometimes their shoes too, get a good mouthful of childleg and you find, between your teeth, the poisoned sneaker. Hair as well, millions of pounds of hair scarifying the gut over the years, why couldn’t they have just been thrown down wells, exposed on hillsides, accidentally electrocuted by model railroads? And the worst was their blue jeans, my meals course after course of improperly laundered blue jeans, T-shirts …
Believe me, the Dead Father said, I never wanted it, I wanted only the comfort of my armchair, the feel of a fine ________ paper, the cool anxiety about whether I had been cogged if if if with a restrike or not, whether some cunning fellow had steelfaced an old copperplate and run off the odd thousand extra impressions, …
if if if if—-
You may take my meaning, but for myself I withhold that which defines you. For the fire.
My heavy-starch husk
Holds me up
As I drop into my chair.
Humans in caves
Career the Valley outside my window.
She’s so far away now
I can’t see
Her eyes huge
When she last brushed by.
And now the jerks are expected
There’s nothing to do but
I hope to someday
Find something to say
I see you.
Because I’m no longer
He woke before dawn and watched the gray day break. Slow and half opaque. He rose while the boy slept and pulled on his shoes and wrapped in his blanket he walked out through the trees. He descended into a gryke in the stone and there he crouched coughing and he coughed for a long time. Then he just knelt in the ashes. He raised his face to the paling day. Are you there? he whispered. Will I see you at the last? Have you a neck by which to throttle you? Have you a heart? Damn you eternally have you a soul? Oh God, he whispered. Oh God. –CM, TR
Morning workouts bring cracked dust trails and seldom used railroad tracks. The California Sun is nowhere near as hot as the one over the New Mexico desert where I roamed aged 12. Yet, it’s just hot enough to peel back layers of memories revealing the most pleasant sensations of my early rides to the college where I’d double-booked classes only to capture lab time with the mainframe. What’s missing now are the oil pits, wind-blown plumes of invisible petroleum stink, and the web of caliche roads which seem to hold the Llano Estacado to Earth. In boiling heat I plotted back country pumpjack routes ending near the southwest quadrant of the road circumscribing NMJC. Summer weekdays I made the trip on an old ten-speed carving frustrating ruts when the hardpan failed. I suppose I was motivated by the same obsession I see in my own children today: Machine time. Still, I see no similar adventure in their own lives–solo quests over treacherous lands–and it saddens me. And today, every small avoidance on my trail run triggers instincts to instruct them as to what to watch for, what to avoid, the geology, and the observation of the toil of others, but my children aren’t there. Their absence begs the question: What have we wrought? A question repeating in my mind, but the words are not my own. While science and society progresses, we haven’t made any significant strides in our own nature. We’re still viciously vying for wants; corruption has no obvious face, and it is everywhere; the workplace is just a facade behind which hides a nature no different from ranchborne butchery; and cooled offices and retina displays have only changed the face of our routines. Beneath the thin veneer of our professions exists the same grunting club armed primate waiting to bash in your head for a few corporate kudos. How to prepare them?
after gathering surface samples Officer Jolene Manipulates the transnoumenal plasma plotting our course to next star system–altering reality with the touch of a small, sensitive hand.
Recent US Supreme Court news has focused on DOMA; however, there’s another case which intrigues me more: Salinas v Texas. Here’s the holding:
When petitioner had not yet been placed in custody or received Miranda warnings, and voluntarily responded to some questions by police about a murder, the prosecution’s use of his silence in response to another question as evidence of his guilty at trial did not violate the Fifth Amendment because petitioner failed to expressly invoke his privilege not to incriminate himself in response to the officer’s question.
Specifically, police informally asked questions to a suspect; pre-Miranda; suspect answered most; when presented with a question that might incriminate him, he remained silent. His silent pause was used against him in court as evidence of his guilt.
Language–the means, mode, and act of communication, syntax and grammar, verbal or otherwise–is on stage here. Before this year, I’d never attempted a critical, circumspect investigation into language and its role in forming society and, more important, reality. In my pursuit of tying specific words to concepts as I understand them (something most important to me over the past two years), I’ve learned to appreciate the role language plays in all things human. I’ve found many discrepancies in my notions of definition and meaning by practicing pause when considering important values I hold. For example, I value integrity as a defining characteristic. I often shape my world-view around what I would do in a particular situation to maximize a positive outcome for myself and for all. But, what does integrity mean to another person? This is a problem. Since I’m not The Other, there’s no way for me to ever, ever know we absolutely agree on, well, anything at all.
In work, language and the act of communicating is perilous. We’re constantly misinterpreting. Text messages, chats, and emails amplify the problem. I’ve heard: “I messaged So-and-So over thirty minutes ago, why haven’t they responded? Did I make them angry somehow?” Silence can be scary, and it’s never clear what it means. This court case and outcome I find astounding because no reasonable way to interpret the silence of Salinas. In this case, a man’s life was at stake.
More troubling is that the existence of rights is tied to an act of language. Our Supreme Court confirmed Salinas should have exercised his right, and only then would his silence be inadmissible. With the conjuring of a right by his use of language it would have created the reality keeping him out of jail. Yet Salinas’ silence was instead used as a determining factor of his guilt. All this time I’ve acted as if rights are intrinsic. You have them, or you don’t. No magic spells required. I’ve obviously misunderstood Miranda as a safety net for the uninformed: The police must tell you your rights just to make sure you know them so they can’t coerce you to incriminate yourself. Instead, you do not have the right to remain silent without incriminating yourself until the police have informed you of your rights and you have used a form of language to exercise those rights. I believe this is a mistake and a marked indicator of our flawed society.
This issue indicates the power and provides clear evidence of the important role language plays in defining what and who we are. Every day I talk to dozens of people, and many of those conversations happen in a closed room, in a one-on-one setting as it’s part of my job. I listen, and I do whatever I can to help them, even if it is trivial. After countless hours of conversations with hundreds in this setting, I’ve become exceptionally aware, I believe, of the Otherness of the person in the room. I routinely and clearly see the barriers to communication: Distance, hesitation, fear, doubt, distrust, confusion, cultural issues, and just plain frustration in trying to convey an idea. You see the patterns enough, they become obvious. Today, it’s difficult to avoid acute self-awareness during these conversations. I’m constantly reminded there’s another person in the room with their own world-view, their own values, their own concerns, and it’s all wrapped in the period of time they’ve existed. Now, once at the front of my thoughts, the mechanics of identifying and addressing the concerns of the Other become automatic.
I think this takes a huge amount of practice, and I suspect most people never have such an opportunity. I think I’m probably lucky to be in this position; however, I can’t overstate how difficult it can be to always reach a positive outcome–and maintain that integrity I value. Language deficiencies leave room for misinterpretations that may prohibit outcomes perceived as my maintaining integrity, no matter what I do.